By defining an appropriate field line helicity, we apply the powerful concept of magnetic helicity to the problem of global magnetic field evolution in the Sun's corona. As an ideal-magnetohydrodynamic invariant, the field line helicity is a meaningful measure of how magnetic helicity is distributed within the coronal volume. It may be interpreted, for each magnetic field line, as a magnetic flux linking with that field line. Using magneto-frictional simulations, we investigate how field line helicity evolves in the non-potential corona as a result of shearing by large-scale motions on the solar surface. On open magnetic field lines, the helicity injected by the Sun is largely output to the solar wind, provided that the coronal relaxation is sufficiently fast. But on closed magnetic field lines, helicity is able to build up. We find that the field line helicity is non-uniformly distributed, and is highly concentrated in twisted magnetic flux ropes. Eruption of these flux ropes is shown to lead to sudden bursts of helicity output, in contrast to the steady flux along the open magnetic field lines.
Yeates, A., & Hornig, G. (2016). The global distribution of magnetic helicity in the solar corona. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 594, Article A98. https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201629122